Port costs US$109M-$117M

The proposed cruise berthing project in George Town could cost between US$109 million and US$117 million while construction and relocation of the cargo facility could cost US$71 million.

Meanwhile Phase One of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project begins next Tuesday evening, 13 January, with a meeting open to the public at 7pm at the Family Life Centre in George Town.

Minister for Tourism and Environment Charles Clifford said, ‘This is perhaps the most major project that the country has undertaken.’

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts announced the proposed cost estimates at the post Cabinet press briefing yesterday (Thursday).

Minister Tibbetts said the actual cruise berthing cost depends on the design option. ‘These are high level costs only and they do not include upland work nor any cost savings which may be achieved once detailed designs are completed,’ he said.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in July by the Cayman Islands government, the Port Authority and property developer Atlantic Star Ltd. for the redevelopment of port facilities.

Along with separating cruise and cargo handling, other goals are to improve the managing and carrying capacity of cruise and cargo facilities and catering to forecasted demand over the next 25 to 30 years in a cost effective and environmentally responsible manner, Mr. Tibbetts said.

‘All of the concepts under consideration are designed to accommodate the new Oasis class ships but the EIA will help determine how each design performs under actual testing,’ said Mr. Tibbetts.

The financial and ownership modelling is about to be completed by KPMG who are doing the study on behalf of the Port Authority and Government.

The EIA process has been developed by the Department of Environment. The first phase is a scoping exercise on the terms of reference and the second phase is the testing of the conceptual designs.

CH2MHILL is conducting the EIA on behalf of the Port Authority, said Mr. Tibbetts.

CH2MHILL and DoE will discuss public feedback suggestions and determine if previously defined study terms will be modified, Mr. Tibbetts stated.

‘The whole purpose of EIA is to ensure all the concerns are addressed in such a way that the trade offs between the benefits of the project and the cost in terms of environmental damage or socio-economic or economic issues will be very evident to the decision makers,’ said Director of the DoE Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

She said the two shipwrecks in the area – the Balboa and the Cali – would be looked at to see what the impacts of such a project would be on those and the possible fallout if they were lost.

Minister Tibbetts said, ‘The EIA is quite extensive and takes into account the overall effect of the project on daily life in the area, the potential impact on marine environment, to the customer service experience of cruise passenger to the resulting traffic issues regarding roads in that area.’

The EIA is a decision informer rather than a decision maker, he said. It is meant to provide a sound basis on which future decision can be made.

‘If it said it would destroy Seven Mile Beach then clearly we can’t build the project. One of the things being looked at in the EIA is alternatives. If we get that type of conclusion then the report would also state what sort of alternatives there are in relation to attaining this level of infrastructure,’ Mr. Clifford said.

While Minister Clifford noted that he snorkels a lot, he has not snorkelled in George Town harbour but said he believes there is already significant damage in the port area. ‘Yes, we have an absolute appreciation for our marine environment which is why we said from the very beginning we would not undertake a project of this magnitude without first doing an EIA. We are very serious about it. We are going to follow the recommendations that we get on that.’

The cruise plans will establish facilities that have the capacity to serve a maximum of eight vessels, four berthed and four using tenders.

The facilities will provide a passenger capacity at the cruise terminal of up to 23,500 passengers a day.

‘However, just as the current facility has the capacity to cater for up to 20,000 passengers, as we have done in the past, the actual passenger capacity will be governed by a management plan similar to what is being used today,’ said Minister Tibbetts.

He said the staging area of berthing significantly improves the way that passengers access prearranged tours as well as independent transport once they arrive.

The Port Authority estimates the existing cargo terminal has a limited lifespan before inefficiencies significantly increase, including longer delays with handling cargo, said Mr. Tibbetts.

‘The port currently handles 270,000 tonnes of cargo annually. The new cargo facility will have the capacity to process cargo volumes up to 2.3 million tonnes per year through to the year 2030.’

As public consultation on the EIA is due to begin, preliminary meetings were held with those familiar with cruise and cargo operations as a means of obtaining feedback for the operation feasibility of the conceptual plans.

The cruise lines overwhelmingly approve of the conceptual plans but believe that further detailed analysis should be done, said Mr. Tibbetts.

Consultations have also been held with local tourism and business stakeholders who have indicated unanimous support but emphasised need to ensure proper environmental studies are conducted, he added.